Sunday, May 03, 2015
Thoughts on the Middle East Wars
Whenever a discussion involves the war in Iraq, there are inevitably many people who argue that the entire enterprise was a failure - or worse - a geopolitical catastrophe that has upset the Middle East apple cart. They are wrong. At the article by the American Interest I made this point in response to a comment by someone who believes that there is no " ... good strategy for success in either Afghanistan or Iraq." Saying we "need to be realistic." The point is that there is a recipe for success and it's not that difficult. And we have been very unrealistic, but not in the way that most people believe.
Herewith my comment (with a few edits):
“We need to be realistic” is a great tag line, but very little realism has been exhibited by either the supporters or the opponents of the invasion of Iraq. The first unrealistic assumption is that “"of course" people everywhere would choose Western-style democracy and freedom if given the chance.” I never thought so and was worried by the Bush administration’s emphasis on this idea. I suspected that Bush 43 was too naive and this troubled me.
There is little evidence of that Western-style democracy is the default position in developed countries and absolutely none in underdeveloped countries. The idea that the people of Iraq, with absolutely no experience with Western-style democracy, would embrace it was appealing but absolutely unsupported by reason or experience. The fact that the Bush administration was promoting this idea I attribute to one of two reasons: (1) they really believed it (bad), or (2) they were attempting to counter the Left’s theme that the war was a mistake and wanted to use Iraqi elections to counter that propaganda (also bad).
History is a great teacher if anyone bothers to study it. It doesn’t have to be ancient history. Within the last century we defeated Germany and Japan, both first world countries, and have troops there to this day. Japan had no history of Western-style democracy. After defeating the Empire of Japan we did not allow them to have elections and leave. We stayed to make sure that the kind of government we approved of grew up in the rubble of the war. General Douglas MacArthur ruled Japan as an American Proconsul until the Korean War. Modern Japan was largely created by Mac Arthur, not by Japanese elections.
Germany had a brief, unhappy history of democracy between the wars, but after WW2 the conquerors imposed military rule on the country which did not end until 1949. We had a veto power over who was elected and what policies were followed. As an incentive, the US and other allies maintained a military presence in Germany ever since then.
So what political genius decided that after invading a country with no history of democracy, with a religion that’s hostile to Western-style democracy, all that was needed was a new constitution and a good election to become just like us?
The problems began when the Bush State Department decided to disband the Iraqi military and much of its civilian political structure, creating several million people without jobs and no way of making a living. In comparison, after WW2 the West left most of the German and Japanese political infrastructure in place, and a big enough military presence to quell whatever resistance arose.
Despite these blunders the US won the Iraq war, peace was mostly restored after a brutal struggle and winning the peace would be the challenge. Bush hinted that he understood by his references to the long struggle ahead as he left office.
Then the election of 2008 brought Obama to power. The man who said invading Iraq was a mistake.
Exit the Bush administration, and enter Obama. He declared Iraq was the unnecessary war but Afghanistan was the good war, took a victory lap and - ignoring the fact that Iraq, a disarmed country, was rapidly coming under the control of Iran – left zero military forces behind. With no military influence we could not change destructive Iraqi government policy, we could not dissuade Iran from increasing its influence, we could not even do anything to stop ISIS – the group Obama called the “JV” team – from taking the military gear we left behind and begin its reign of terror. Today Iraq is rapidly becoming a client state of Iran unless ISIS (the JV team) takes over the entire country.
Obama threw away Iraq. He’s losing the war in Afghanistan. He’s managed to transform Libya from a country with a bad dictator who kept the crazies under control to a failed state that’s a safe haven for every Jihadist who wants a break from beheading infidels. He desperately wanted to turn Egypt over to the Muslim Brotherhood (slogan: “Death to the Jews”). He’s busy helping Iran become the hegemonic power in the Middle East (slogan: “Death to America”). And if he has his way, one day Jerusalem will be the target of the Persian atom bomb, solving his Jewish Problem™.
No war goes according to plan, especially a new kind of war with enemy combatants that look just like the farmer in his field, the passenger on the bus or the woman out shopping. I’m willing to give the benefit of the doubt to leaders who want to protect Americans and defend American interests. But the current administration is in the process of shunning traditional allies and accommodating traditional adversaries. Nixon to China was an example of a major change in American foreign policy. It has born much fruit. However,when these initiatives don’t seem to make thing better questions arise.
At some point, if you are looking at things in a clearheaded way – shedding rose colored glasses – you begin to wonder if it’s all a series of bad decisions by political neophytes or done with deliberate malice. You hope it's the former, but hope is not a plan.